Page images
PDF
EPUB

wrong; but, taking him aside, I did at last hit upon an argument that charmed away his anger. I asked him how he could think it possible for the Professor to undervalue the poem? and what proof he could give of his own veneration for it, equivalent to the committing it so accurately to memory, together with three rival versions of such different complexions? Goodman Dull then really laughed away his folly, and returned to table quite reconciled to his master."

On a

We may here consider what has been said as to the authorship of the "Eloisa in Dishabille." It was generally thought to be Porson's own, from his frequent repetition of it, and from his silence as to any other parentage; but the writer of the "Short Account of Porson" was "inclined to think that the fondness of the Professor for the dirty brat was the fondness of adoption," and that it was really written by a Mr. Coffin of Exeter, a friend of Porson's. His grounds for this opinion the writer does not state, nor do we know where to find any particulars concerning Mr. Coffin, to indicate whether he were likely to be the author or not. fly-leaf of a copy of "My Pocket Book," a satire by Dubois on Sir John Carr's "Travels," which was published in 1807, and is now in the library of the London Institution, Porson has written some remarks as to the allegation that he was the author: "Such is the present eagerness of the public for anecdote, that, let an anonymous author tell the most scandalous and improbable falsehood of a known character, there will be no lack of readers to swallow it. In pages xii. and xiii. of the preface to this book the author charges the present Greek Professor of Cambridge with writing a parody

CH. XXIII.]

on Pope's Eloisa.' This statement is certainly false; for the parody in question was printed for Faulder in 1780, as appears from the 'Critical Review' for December 1780, and from the 'Monthly Review' for February 1781. If therefore Mr. Porson wrote that parody, he must have written it when he was an undergraduate, many years before he became Greek Professor. But if the author should say that he only meant that the person who wrote the parody is now the Greek Professor, I shall pass over the clumsiness of the expression, and only desire him to produce his proofs of the latter fact. This I know, that I have several times heard Mr. P. seriously disown all share whatever in the composition of that parody, and all knowledge of its author." If Porson meant this as a denial that he was the author, a denial might have been made with less circumlocution. He made a denial of the authorship, however, to Boaden, and he made denials to others. But Johnson said that if a man were asked whether he were the author of a book which he had written, but did not wish to acknowledge, he might justifiably assert that he was not the author; for if he made no reply to the question, it must be considered as an admission of the authorship. In this persuasion Mathias denied the authorship of the "Pursuits of Literature," and Sir Walter Scott denied for a time the authorship of the "Waverley Novels." Little more need be said upon the question. The production is no credit to its author. No one can have much pleasure in seeing the delicate lines of Pope degraded into shamelessness. The versification is smooth doggrel, and the few notes at the foot of the pages are trifling and nauseous.

ELOISA.

291

If Porson denied that he knew who the author was, it is not probable that it was written by his friend Coffin, for such a denial would then have been a needless falsehood. But the denial of "all knowledge of the author" may have been made in some mystifying phrase, Coffin, or whoever wrote the thing, being perhaps already dead. John Taylor thought that "the warmth and frequency of Porson's obtrusive recitations evidently manifested parental dotage."* If Porson really wrote it, he must have written it when he was not more than twenty, and may have afterwards wished to be thought guiltless of its production. Moore, however, in his "Life of Byron," says that it was written by John Matthews, Esq., the father of Byron's friend, Charles Skinner Matthews; but that Porson "printed an edition" of it.

Another poem, of a somewhat similar character, "An Epistle from Oberea, Queen of Otaheite, to Joseph Banks, Esq., translated by T. Q. Z., Esq., professor of the Otaheite language in Dublin, and all languages of the undiscovered islands in the South-Sea," has been also confidently said to have been written by Porson. But Mr. Kidd declares that it has been improperly attributed to him; and, as the first edition of it appeared in 1774, when Porson was fourteen years of age, we may very well accept Mr. Kidd's declaration. The design of it was to ridicule certain highly descriptive passages in Hawkesworth's "Voyages," and it was written, if Mr. Kidd be not mistaken, "by a late Member of Parliament well known in the walks of wit." This Member of Parliament, it appears, was Sir John Tracts, p. lxiii.

* Records of My Life, vol. i. p. 240. Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii. p. 9.

[blocks in formation]

Courtney; and when Kidd remarked to Porson that Courtney was the author, Porson made no denial. The versification is excellent, and, as Porson is said to have been extremely fond of repeating passages from it, the reader may not object to see a specimen of what he repeated. It commences as follows. Opano," we should observe, was the form into which the Otaheitans metamorphosed Sir Joseph Banks's name.

"Read, or oh! say, does some more amorous fair
Prevent Opano, and engage his care?
I, Oberea, from the Southern main,

[ocr errors]

Of slighted vows, of injur'd faith, complain.
Though now some European maid you woo,
Of waist more taper, and of whiter hue,
Yet oft with me you deign'd the night to pass
Beneath bread-tree on the bending grass :
Oft in the rocking boat we fondly lay,
Nor fear'd the drizzly wind, or briny spray.

yon

Who led thee through the wood's impervious shade,
Pierc'd the thick covert, and explor'd the glade;
Taught thee each plant that sips the morning dew,
And brought the latent minerals to thy view?
Still to those glades, those coverts, I repair,
Trace every alley,- but thou art not there.
Nor herb, nor salutary plant I find,

To cool the burning fever of my mind.
Ah! I remember on the river's side,

Whose babbling waters 'twixt the mountains glide,
A bread-tree stands, on which, with sharpen'd stone
To thy dear name I deign'd unite my own.
Grow, bread-tree, grow, nor envious hand remove
The sculptur'd symbols of my constant love."

293

* Page 22.

"Whatsoever," says the "Short Account" of Porson*, "Whatsoever at any time pleased the Professor's fancy, he for the most part charged his memory with, and

brought it out for the amusement of his company, whether in the shape of an Oration of Longolius on St. Louis, or Davis's Latin Hudibras, or the Pleader's Guide."

"Nothing," says the writer of the "Scraps from Porson's Rich Feast," 66 came amiss to his memory; he would set a child right in his twopenny fable-book, repeat the whole of the moral tale of the Dean of Badajos, or a page of Athenæus on cups, or Eustathius on Homer."

Dr. Dauney of Aberdeen told Mr. Maltby that, during a visit to London, he heard Porson declare that he could repeat Smollett's Roderick Random' from beginning to end :" and Mr. Richard Heber assured Maltby that "soon after the appearance of the Essay on Irish Bulls,' Porson used, when somewhat tipsy, to recite whole pages of it verbatim with great delight." He said that he would undertake to learn by heart a copy of the "Morning Chronicle" in a week.†

""*

Pryse Lockhart Gordon, in his "Personal Memoirs," says that Porson, having been invited to dine with him, and having come, by mistake, on Thursday instead of Friday, was kept to dinner on the Thursday, and, testifying no desire to go to bed when his host retired, was left with two bottles of wine before him, and an Italian novel, which he sat up all night reading, and of which, at a dinner party the following day, he gave a translation from memory, and though there were forty names mentioned in the story, he had forgotten only one of them. This slight failure in his recollection, however,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 310. ↑ Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol ii. p. 24.

Vol. i. p. 265.

« PreviousContinue »